Shito is the local name for this centuries-old condiment in the Ghanaian language Ga and one of Africa’s increasingly most popular sauces. It is made of a combination of ground red chilli, ginger, garlic, shrimps and herrings. The taste tends to vary depending on what spices and other ingredients are used. Shito is usually served with rice, fries, kenkey, Waakye, roast meat, just to mention a few.
I grew up with very little knowledge of how shito was made. I recall it being made by the pot loads at least three times a year then carefully bottled for my sister to take to boarding school. Whatever was left was stored and used by the rest of the family. The sauce lasted for months as the cooking process, which ensures every bit of liquid is drawn out, was such that it naturally had a long shelf life.
Fast forward, a couple of decades later and a business opportunity to partner with a friend to manufacture shito on a commercial scale arose. Naturally, within a few weeks I had mastered the cooking of shito, drafted a business plan, hired label and logo designers, hired a commercial kitchen, and sought permission from the authorities to manufacture a food product. The list goes on.
A few weeks and a small fortune spent later, the product was in over 20 small independent shops across London, UK and plans were afoot to expand into Ghana and Nigeria. The feedback from customers were great from day One. This was shito with a difference and came in mild, medium and hot. It had a strong natural pleasant savoury taste. An umami taste the Japanese would call it which blew the 5th taste senses of those who had it away. Making traditional authentic shito took time and a special kind of care was needed. Hours of frying from a stewy consistency to an almost crispy form was how my forefathers made this and that is the method I stick to, come what may.
Ketchup, brown sauce, mayonnaise and Schrirasa can all be found in my pantry, but shito occupies a special place. A whole cupboard, perhaps a year’s supply is dedicated to shito. I eat it more often and have a collection some of which were directly bought from it’s historic home – Ghana. Whether on French toast, with Kenkey, fried fish and Tilapia or with Yam and fried turkey tails, shito is as versatile as Sriracha. On Chinese fried rice it makes China’s chilli oil seem like a poor cousin. The best way to see Shito is as you would Ketchup. An all-purpose chilli based sauce or condiment for a variety of dishes.
As part of Pots, Pen and Gallivanting’s series on African sauces, I will share with you the special recipe and method for making shito.